Dec. 11, 2010
BOONE, N.C. - Senior wide receiver Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) had a career-high four touchdowns and threw for another score to lead Villanova (9-4) into the semifinals of the Division I Football Championship with a 42-24 victory at No. 1 seed Appalachian State (10-3) at Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The defending national champion Wildcats won on the road for the second straight week to reach the semifinals for the second year in a row and third time in program history.
Villanova had never won a true road game in the postseason before last week but has now won two straight playoff road games by lopsided margins. That turnaround matches the way the team has turned around its season, going from the brink of elimination from postseason contention to being one step away from returning to the national championship game. In the process, the Wildcats have won a road game against then-No. 1 Delaware in the final game of the regular season, defeated Southland Conference champion Stephen F. Austin on their home turf and eliminated the top playoff seed with today's victory.
In the semifinals next week, Villanova will face the winner of today's quarterfinal matchup between No. 5 seed Eastern Washington and North Dakota State, which kicked off at 3:30 p.m. The game will be played either this coming Friday night (Dec. 17) or next Saturday afternoon (Dec. 18), with the day, time and location to be announced later.
For the first time in his career, Szczur registered touchdowns by way of rushing, receiving and passing in the same game. He did all that in the first half alone as Villanova built a 28-10 lead by halftime before staving off numerous attempts by the Mountaineers to start a rally in the second half. This was the 32nd consecutive game since 2003 in which the Wildcats have defended a double-digit halftime lead en route to a victory.
Appalachian State twice cut its deficit to 11 points in the second half but both times Villanova answered with touchdowns of its own - on runs from Szczur and senior quarter back Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa.) - to maintain control of the game. In addition to winning their third straight game this season, the Wildcats have now won six consecutive playoff games since last season and improved to 10-7 all-time in the Division I Football Championship.
The game started with the Mountaineers needing just four plays to score on their first possession and take a 7-0 lead on a 46-yard run by Travaris Cadet just 1:12 into the contest. It was the type of quick strike Appalachian State wanted to make over and over and was a similar start to the one Villanova endured in the second round last week, when the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin scored first and eventually led by 14 points in the first quarter.
No uphill climb was necessary for the Wildcats this time, as Szczur scored on a two-yard run with 8:18 left in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7. Later in the first quarter, Mountaineers wide receiver Devon Moore caught a pass near the sideline and broke away for a 74-yard play before being taken down at the five-yard line. Villanova reversed the momentum of that play, however, by holding Appalachian State to a field goal which put the hosts up 10-7.
Then it was off to the races. Szczur threw a 54-yard pass to junior wide receiver Norman White (Hammonton, N.J.), who made a running one-handed catch on his way into the end zone for the Wildcats first lead of the game, 14-10 with 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
Next up was a 30-yard touchdown pass from Whitney to Szczur, followed by a 24-yard run from Szczur which stretched the Villanova advantage to 28-10 with 5:17 remaining before halftime. Those two scores were business as usual for the Wildcats, who have scored almost 40 percent of their points this season in the second quarter and have a 152-58 scoring margin in the second period of games for the year.
Szczur wound up running for 105 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, caught a team-high five passes for 45 yards and a score and went 2-of-2 through the air for 58 yards and a touchdown. He had 207 all-purpose yards and this was the second time in his career that he found three different ways to score a touchdown in the same game; the other was in the first round of the playoffs in 2008 and included touchdowns via a rush, pass and kick return.
Villanova had possession of the ball for nearly 33 minutes in the game, with more than 28 minutes of that time coming in the first three periods. Whitney was an efficient 12-of-16 for 106 yards and a touchdown, with White making four catches for a team-high 88 yards and a score. Whitney also ran for 32 yards and senior running back Aaron Ball (Los Angeles, Calif.) carried for 75 yards en route to a 285-yard rushing performance by the team.
Adjustments made at halftime helped Appalachian State slow down the Wildcats offense at the start of the second half and Ben Jorden caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from DeAndre Presley with 4:39 to play in the third quarter, trimming Villanova's lead down to 28-17.
That score only seemed to rejuvenate the Wildcats, though, and Szczur ran into the end zone for the third time less than a minute into the fourth quarter to put the lead back at 18 points. Another quick drive by the Mountaineers resulted in Brian Quick catching a 38-yard touchdown pass from Presley to make the score 35-24 with 11:46 to play.
Villanova fumbled the ensuing kickoff by Appalachian State, but the Mountaineers went four-and-out and turned the ball over on downs one yard short of a first down at the Wildcats 35-yard line. One play later, Ball broke off a 60-yard run down to the five-yard line and Whitney put the game out of reach with a five-yard run to close the scoring for the day.
Defensively, junior cornerback James Pitts (Montclair, N.J.) had a game-high 14 tackles, while senior safety John Dempsey (Secane, Pa.) made a career-high 12 tackles to go along with a sack and a forced fumble.
Presley finished the game 31-of-56 passing for 361 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Appalachian State. He completed at least one pass to nine different receivers, five of whom made at least four catches on the day. The Mountaineers actually wound up with a 12-yard edge in total offense (461-449), though 339 of its 461 yards came in the first and fourth periods.